IndyCar: A salute to cleanliness the last 3 races

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I may be in the minority here, but I’d like to give a round of applause to the entire IZOD IndyCar Series field for putting together three straight races without a single major accident.

Earlier this month, the first half of Detroit race two was frankly awful with six cautions for 22 laps occurring in the first 36 laps in the 70-lap race.

But since that low point, the men and women in the field have driven 228 laps at Texas Motor Speedway, many fighting ill-handling race cars that went south as soon as their tires began falling off, 250 laps at the challenging Milwaukee Mile and 250 laps at the Iowa Speedway without tearing up a single race car.

The only incidents in this stretch? Oriol Servia had a wicked spin but saved it without hitting anything at Texas (pictured). Alex Tagliani has had a pair of spins: one at Milwaukee and one at Iowa, without contacting the wall. Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz each made slight contact at Turn 4 in Milwaukee, but both made it back to the pits.

The only accident that’s tore up a car in the last three weekends was when James Jakes lost control in Turn 2 in his heat race at Iowa, which forced the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team to prepare his backup car.

This stretch of six races in five weekends, with two additional weeks at Indianapolis for practice and qualifying before that after returning from Brazil, has been nothing short of a nightmare for crews. It’s a case of mass travel, mass changeover in setups, and extended hours with limited sleep.

Kudos, then, to the drivers who have made sure their crews haven’t needed to do more repair work as a result.

Sam Schmidt to enter the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame

Photo: Arrow/SAM Car Project
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Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, is set to be inducted into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame as part of its 2017 class. He joins boxer Floyd Mayweather, professional golf coach Butch Harmon, and 1950s college football star Overton Curtis as inductees. The Las Vegas Bowl college football game will also be inducted as part of the ceremonies.

“I’m truly honored to be recognized with this group of incredible athletes and organizations,” said Schmidt, who resides in Henderson, Nevada. “When you look at the other recipients over the past 21 years, it is truly a who’s who of Nevada sports and community leaders, all of whom I respect tremendously and several I call friends. I am proud that this award represents both accomplishments on the track and as a team owner, as well as a commitment to giving back to the local community which has always been important to my family.”

Dan Dolby, executive director of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame, described that this year’s inductees exemplify everything they look for in the Nevada sports community. “The class of 2017 is accomplished in so many different ways. We have an outstanding group of athletes who have contributed so much both in the competitive arena and in the community, as well as one of most iconic and longest-lasting sporting events in our city. This class again represents the best attributes of our community, and we are thrilled to bestow upon them the state’s highest sports honor in welcoming them to the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.”

Sam Schmidt’s teams have claimed seven Indy Lights championships, the most of any team in series’ history, although the Lights team ceased operations this offseason. His Verizon IndyCar Series teams have also claimed two poles for the Indianapolis 500.

But, Schmidt’s accomplishments extend beyond the IndyCar and Indy Lights paddocks. He piloted a specially prepared Corvette, using a combination of breathing and neck movements, that was designed by team partner and sponsor Arrow Electronics to the top of Pikes Peak, which stands at more than 14,000 feet. He also completed an exhibition run in the same car prior to pole qualifying for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The ceremony will take place on June 2 a the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Red Bull GRC: Series confirms Ottawa for Canadian date in June

Photo: Larry Chen/Red Bull Content Pool
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Red Bull Global Rallycross has confirmed its Canadian date, which was listed as a TBA on the schedule release earlier this year. The series will visit the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa for a doubleheader on June 17-18.

The full release from the series is below:

For the first time in its seven-year history, Red Bull Global Rallycross will head to Canada for a championship event in 2017. On Saturday, June 17 and Sunday, June 18, Red Bull GRC will visit Ottawa, the country’s capital, for two rounds of action at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. The event is part of the Ottawa 2017 calendar, a year-long celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

“Ottawa represents a perfect fit for Red Bull GRC as we return to international competition in 2017,” said Red Bull GRC CEO Colin Dyne. “We’ve been fortunate to see many Canadian fans at our events in the United States over the years, and we’re looking forward to bringing our racing formula north for the very first time, and to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. As Ottawa 2017 celebrates the 150th anniversary of Canada, we can’t think of a better way to join the celebration than by staging an event in the nation’s capital.”

The museum is easily accessible off of the Sir George Etienne Cartier Parkway, with the double header event utilizing portions of the Rockcliffe Airport. The course will feature long straightaways and wide-open corners, allowing the 600-horsepower Supercars to reach top speed. The paved main course and Joker Lap will merge leading into the dirt section, just before cars fly over the finish line on the series’ signature 70-foot jump. With grandstands set throughout the dirt section and up to the finish, fans will be up close to some of the most exciting moments of the 2017 season.

This year, as Canada celebrates its sesquicentennial, a record number of Canadians and visitors will gather in the nation’s capital to join in the festivities planned throughout 2017. Ottawa 2017 is presenting 12 full months of big, bold and immersive experiences that will complement national celebrations and annual events and festivals. Residents and visitors from Canada and abroad are invited to explore Canada’s history and culture through vibrant events that will spark the imagination and inspire for the future.

“As the nation’s capital, we’re happy to welcome this exciting event to Canada for the first time. Red Bull Global Rallycross will thrill participants and viewers across the country and around the world, while showcasing our city in a new and dynamic way, said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “In support of Ecology Ottawa’s One Million Trees project and to further support this important legacy of the sesquicentennial year, the series’ organizers have committed to planting 10,000 trees in Ottawa.”

“Red Bull Global Rallycross will be yet another legacy of the Ottawa 2017 celebrations, with the opportunity for the event to return in subsequent years. It’s one of the bold new events we are helping to bring to Canada’s capital with the support of partners like CIBC and Ottawa Tourism. We’re equally happy to engage our federal partners at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum to showcase this important institution on an international scale,” said Guy Laflamme, Executive Director of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau.

Featuring the sport’s biggest stars and factory-supported race teams, Red Bull Global Rallycross has a long and storied history of international events and competitors. In 2013, it became the first rallycross series to visit three continents in a single season; last year, Supercar drivers represented 10 different countries, including Canada. Fort Frances, Ontario native Steve Arpin was among last year’s five race winners and is expected to join international stars like Tanner Foust, Scott Speed, Chris Atkinson, and many others.

 

Formula 1 Roundtable: Australia

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After a busy four-month offseason, Formula 1 returns this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix (live on NBCSN and NBC Sports App from 12am ET on Sunday).

Following Nico Rosberg’s retirement last December, F1 heads into the new season without its champion for the first time since 1994 – but that’s not the only change.

An overhaul of the technical regulations has given us very different looking cars for 2017, which also pedal much faster and will hopefully give us more exciting races.

Something else that’s new for 2017 is the pre-race weekend ’roundtable’ feature on MotorSportsTalk, with our merry trio of writers giving their views on the weekend to come.

1. A huge amount has changed in F1 for 2017, making Sunday’s race the start of a new era for the sport. But what change are you most excited about?

Luke Smith: The new regulations are probably the most important change for F1 in 2017. While Liberty Media’s takeover is perhaps more important in the long-term, the most obvious on-track changes will come courtesy of the new regs. Testing was a very positive sign, with the cars smashing the targeted times set when the regulations were agreed upon back in 2015 and the drivers offering very positive feedback about their experiences behind the wheel. Quite whether this results in better racing remains to be seen, as overtaking may become more difficult, risking a run of processions through 2017. Alas, F1 is getting really exciting once again. The cars should be spectacular to watch on-track – they just haven’t been in recent years. It’s a really exciting change that should make F1 2017 awesome.

Tony DiZinno: F1 cars are meant to wow – it’s what gets us interested and either got our attention for the first time or keeps us engaged. And with the new regulations producing what should be significantly faster cars, it’s hard not to get excited here. The best part about the new cars is that they have a trickle-down effect that permeates throughout the entire field. Get on top of the new cars early and it may change the pecking order. It also could allow drivers who perhaps didn’t shine through in the previous generation of cars to come to the fore here.

Kyle Lavigne: I share Luke’s sentiments. The new regulations have created incredibly fast cars that destroyed all pre-determined targets. I am unsure of the impact this will have on the actual racing, and I am somewhat concerned about the aerodynamic dependence of the new chassis. But, the speeds will be incredible, especially in qualifying.

Also: new regulations often allow for a shakeup at the front of the grid. Mercedes AMG Petronas has decimated all comers since 2014, but the door is now open for someone else to challenge them. Testing times indicated Mercedes is not invincible, and the fastest times came from Scuderia Ferrari drivers Sebastien Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The 2017 season has a level of unpredictability that the sport has lacked since Mercedes began dominating the hybrid era, which means we could be in for a wild season.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 08: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 during day two of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 8, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

2. One of the biggest stories from pre-season testing was McLaren’s (or more precisely, Honda’s) struggles. Just how will Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne do in Australia?

LS: I’m really skeptical as to what McLaren-Honda can achieve in the first race. The power unit hasn’t done any more than 11 consecutive laps, and the two-week gap from Barcelona testing to the start of the season just wasn’t long enough for any big fixes to be made. It pains to say it about such brilliant drivers like Alonso and Vandoorne, but I think they’ll both get knocked out in Q1 and then either retire or finish outside of the points. It’s not looking good.

TDZ: Hey, so long as Alonso isn’t barrel-rolling this race it’s an improvement compared to last year, right? Either way Australia has not been a happy hunting ground for McLaren-Honda in its current guise. Kevin Magnussen didn’t even make the grid two years ago and you worry if the same fate might befall either driver here. In an ideal world, both make it out of Q1 and one scores points. In a realistic one, Alonso will be the only driver to advance out of Q1 courtesy of a typically brilliant Alonso lap and two DNFs occur in the race. If a finish occurs, all the better; if a points finish occurs, it’d probably be on par from a shock level as Romain Grosjean’s P6 in Haas’ debut here last year.

KL: It makes me genuinely sad to see a team as mighty as McLaren-Honda in such a poor state. The Honda power unit has regressed enormously, as it has been both under-powered and unreliable. What’s more, it has stopped McLaren from pushing its chassis and learning how to get the most of it. It is going to be very difficult to achieve any noteworthy results at the Australian Grand Prix. Quite frankly, if McLaren can get one of its cars to finish, even if it’s outside of the points, it would be a victory.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

3. Ferrari gave Mercedes a run for its money in testing, setting the fastest time. But was it genuine pace? Pick a winner for the Australian Grand Prix.

LS: Oh it was genuine alright. Ferrari was the team to beat in Barcelona, with Mercedes unable to respond to its pace towards the end of testing despite its best efforts. While I think Mercedes will have too much over the season, my money is on the Scuderia to end its win drought in Australia. Sebastian Vettel will win the season opener.

TDZ: As the resident Italian American among our writing trio, I’m the one who should be overly enthusiastic about Ferrari’s seemingly improved prospects. And yet because Ferrari has flattered to deceive following testing in the past, I can’t buy the hype until they properly prove it on a race weekend, and don’t blow it on strategy. Ferrari hasn’t won in Melbourne since 2007 when Kimi Raikkonen did so, en route to both his first – and Ferrari’s most recent – title. I just don’t have the confidence yet to pick Ferrari, and I figure it’ll be Lewis Hamilton getting off on the right foot in the first race of the post-Nico Rosberg era with another win here.

KL: Scuderia Ferrari is most certainly better. But, whether or not they have anything for Mercedes is still up in the air, it wouldn’t surprise me if Mercedes wasn’t pushing the envelope during testing.

With that said, the Australian Grand Prix has a habit of delivering surprises. And I see that trend continuing. Kimi Raikkonen won on his Ferrari debut at this race ten years ago. This weekend, he ends winless droughts for himself and the Prancing Horse.

F1 Preview: 2017 Australian Grand Prix

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The waiting is finally over. After one of the busiest winters in the sport’s history, Formula 1 finally bursts back into life this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.

The city of Melbourne has played host to the race since 1996, acting as the curtain-raiser in all but two years since then, offering a real ‘back to school’ feel for all in the paddock.

2017 marks the beginning of a new era for F1 in a number of ways. Not only do we have a raft of new regulations to contend with for this season, prompting a radical change in the appearance of the cars, but the sport is also under new management following Liberty Media’s takeover in January.

For the first time since 1994, we head into the new season without the world champion following Nico Rosberg’s sensational decision to retire from racing just five days after his dramatic title success in Abu Dhabi.

As a result, the irons are stoked nicely for the new year: every driver starts from zero, none having the honor of racing with the No. 1. There is everything to play for.

So what can we expect from the start of F1’s latest chapter in Australia? Here are a few things to look out for this weekend.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Will Mercedes really be second-best?

The biggest surprise through pre-season testing was the pace shown by Ferrari. Coming off the back of a winless campaign in 2016, both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were rapid in Barcelona, while the SF70H was a reliable steed. Over one lap, it looked like the rest of the pack couldn’t get close.

Mercedes has been here before. We’ve seen the Silver Arrows stroll through testing before turning things up to 11 for the start of the season, having won over 50 races in the past three years. Lewis Hamilton enters 2017 as the overwhelming favorite for the drivers’ title, while new teammate Valtteri Bottas is expected to add his name to the list of F1 winners.

Yet Ferrari’s pre-season pace has Mercedes worried. Despite its best efforts towards the end of testing, it couldn’t get close to the times that Raikkonen and Vettel were setting. As a result, we’re looking at the very real prospect – perhaps for the first time since 2013 – that Mercedes may not be the fastest team at the start of the season.

Sandbagging is part of the game in testing, but come qualifying in Melbourne, we’ll see Mercedes and Ferrari show their true colors. It could make for a mouth-watering fight at the front of the pack.

Bottas gears up for his big break

When the F1 paddock last convened in Abu Dhabi in November, Valtteri Bottas was facing the prospect of a quiet winter. With a Williams contract extension all sewn up for 2017, he’d spend the off-season training and spending time with his family and wife, Emilia, in Finland.

And then Nico Rosberg dropped his bombshell.

Despite a number of drivers being linked with the Mercedes seat, Bottas was always the sensible option. Through his four years at Williams, he has proven himself to be an adept and fast grand prix racer, leading its charge to third in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and 2015.

The Finn now has his big break, though. With Williams, he stood little chance of becoming an F1 winner. Now at Mercedes, it would surely be a knock-out blow to his hopes of staying in a top seat if he doesn’t claim at least one race victory in 2017.

Bottas has the kind of opportunity that is rare to find in F1. It is one that was never due, yet with just a one-year contract on the table, he is very much in a ‘sink or swim’ situation. If he doesn’t impress, Mercedes has no shortage of options to replace him in 2018.

Bottas was impressive through pre-season testing, and will be hoping to match new teammate Lewis Hamilton in Melbourne despite it being his first race in the white Mercedes race suit. How he handles the pressure of the big time will be fascinating to watch.

Overtaking, strategy option fears linger

The push to introduce new technical regulations for 2017 came as part of a bid to make F1 exciting again. Faster cars equals happy drivers and more on-track action, equalling happy fans – right?

Well, maybe not. Although the significant increase in downforce has seen lap times increase by the desired five seconds from 2015, it is not conducive to overtaking. Drivers have complained time and time again about not being able to follow cars closely in recent years due to the loss in aero grip, and the issue will only be worse this year. As a result, don’t go expecting more overtaking this year. If things are really bad, qualifying could be the settler for races.

Another worry for some in the paddock is tire management – or the lack of it. Pirelli has introduced new, wider tires for 2017, increasing in size by around 25 per cent. While they look awesome and offer a throwback to a bygone age of the sport, the reports from testing was that they were also far more conservative than last year’s offering. They will last much, much longer.

Drivers will appreciate the chance to push more on their compounds, having previously been nursing them from the very first lap in some cases, but these may have gone the other way entirely. There is a risk we could get an array of one-stop races this year, much as we did in 2010, the final year of Bridgestone’s F1 supply. That combined with the possible lack of overtaking is a worrisome prospect.

How bad are things at McLaren-Honda?

Uh, bad. Very bad. Unless something has been magicked up between testing and Melbourne, McLaren could be marooned at the back of the grid come Sunday following a tortuous testing program in Barcelona.

Honda entered 2017 hoping to make big gains following the removal of the token system for engine updates and a change in the layout of its power unit – but appears to have taken a big step backwards.

The McLaren MCL32 car completed a maximum of 11 straight laps in pre-season testing, such were the issues with the power unit, leaving drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne frustrated and exasperated. Neither arrives in Melbourne with much confidence of doing more than making up the numbers.

Honda has a big task on its hand to rectify things before the season is too far gone, while McLaren will continue to ponder the future of its relationship with the Japanese manufacturer, having already made an approach to former partner Mercedes over a possible supply in the future.

The relationship that served the likes of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost so well in the late 1980s and early ’90s is at breaking point. A flop to start the season in Australia will only lend more fuel to the forest fire.

How will F1’s young guns fare?

While the new season typically brings with it a batch of new drivers, there is just one rookie making his first F1 start in Melbourne.

At just 18 years old, Lance Stroll will become the second-youngest driver in F1 history, having stepped up from a title-winning Formula 3 campaign last year that was enough to secure him a seat at Williams.

Stroll endured a mixed pre-season, suffering three crashes in the first week that cost Williams some much-needed mileage before going a long way to making up for it in the second week. The critics may dub the Canadian as ‘just another pay driver’, yet his talent has been clear in junior series. Quite how he copes with his first race situation in F1 will be of particular intrigue.

If F1 had the same ‘rookie’ classification as IndyCar, we’d also be putting (R) next to Esteban Ocon and Stoffel Vandoorne this year. Ocon made his debut in Belgium last year, taking part in the final nine rounds of the year for backmarker Manor. His efforts were enough to secure a seat with Force India for 2017, replacing Nico Hulkenberg and leapfrogging Pascal Wehrlein in the Mercedes junior pecking order.

Vandoorne also has an F1 start under his belt already, having appeared in Bahrain last year as a replacement for Fernando Alonso who was forced out through injury. Vandoorne smashed his way to the GP2 title in 2015 and was in Super Formula last year before taking Jenson Button’s McLaren seat for the forthcoming campaign. He is one of the most exciting talents to hit F1 in recent years, but may not have the car to show what he can truly do in 2017.

2017 Australian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Albert Park
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:24.125 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Ultra-Soft/Super-Soft/Soft
2016 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2016 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:23.837
2016 Fastest Lap: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:28.997
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T16 to T1); T2 to T3

2017 Australian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports App 9pm ET 3/23
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 1am ET 3/24
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports App 11pm ET 3/24
Qualifying: NBCSN 2am ET 3/25
Race: NBCSN 12am ET 3/26